News & Events

LAF News

Stay up to date on LAF!

Subscribe to RSS Feed

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Invasive Infrastructure - Free and Radical

by David Godshall, 2010 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

One of the starkest dichotomies on which the profession of landscape architecture is built is a distinction between healthy, ‘sustainable’ landscapes and derelict, unwanted spaces. Much of my research involves the idioms in which landscape architecture could creatively engage with these latter spaces. The dichotomy can be drawn along many lines, but perhaps nowhere is it more obvious than it is with respect to plants.

04-dgodshallinvasive01We live in a moment in which plants are meticulously categorized, scrutinized, studied, and ultimately, judged. Species that meet specific, value-based criteria (natives!) are celebrated in magazines, newly built landscapes, and plant nurseries. Meanwhile, species deemed to be invasive undergo a kind of tacit persecution. Their snapshots are posted on websites; their locations are mapped, tracked, and surveilled; conferences are even held in which we listen to lectures on how to eradicate the species entirely. One would think, on initial perusal through any pro-native/anti-invasive website or literature, that the argument is really as simple as regarding some plants as rightful citizens 04-dgodshallinvasive02of a landscape, others as “illegals.”

Invasive species, in many instances, are truly harmful. They choke out native flora, overtake riparian corridors, and diminish the availability of habitat for native or naturalized fauna. In large parks and wilderness areas, which often serve as the last oasis for native plant communities, they are clearly the most damaging. Yet, something interesting happens when we shift the context from a wilderness area to a derelict urban space. Invasive plants are often the only species capable of 04-dgodshallinvasive03effectively colonizing and flourishing in polluted urban areas. On vacant lots and street edges they sprout from cracks and seams in the urban carpet, and serve as free, non-planned tracts of urban wilderness. These fragmentary ecological landscapes provide lonely habitats for species that don’t understand their own biological reality in terms of nativism and its opposites.

The dilemma of invasive plants, and the semantic overlap between the way in which we talk about them and the way in which we talk about issues like immigration, gentrification, globalization, and the criminal system, has been guiding much of the research, writing, and art I’ve been focusing on lately. I’ve recently begun hiking into wilderness areas at night and photographing invasive plants in a manner reminiscent of the tabloid photography of Weegee—literally catching these plants in the moment of their crimes. By contrast, I have also begun documenting them in less lurid daytime moments, in an attempt to capture their ecological complexity and visual appeal. In addition, I’ve been working hard on the publication of the second issue of Landskrape Heartattachture, an inflammatory but engaging journal about ‘Landscape’ and all its ramifications. The second issue will be released soon. If you’d like to be involved or get a copy of the first journal, please email me at

David Godshall graduated from UC Berkeley with a Masters in Landscape Architecture, and after a brief and wonderful sojourn to Hawaii, began working for Peter Walker and Partners in Berkeley, California. He is currently working on the design development phase of a waterfront park in Australia for PWP.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Design Communication

by Amanda Jeter, 2010 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

The profession of landscape architecture offers a nuanced understanding of how to design meaningful cultural places that have positive relationships with environmental systems. Unfortunately our ability to convey this vital message to the public is limited by our communication skills. Upon his retirement as editor of Landscape Architecture magazine, William Thompson commented that “overall, writing in this profession is in a very sad state [and landscape architecture] will never reach its full potential in this age of communication with the handicap of bad writing” (The Dirt ASLA, 9/14/2009). To help improve communication, I have directed my research and advocacy focus as a graduate landscape architecture student to help promote writing skills and design communication within the profession.

In 2008, I led a group of fellow first-year graduate MLA students at the University of Colorado Denver to start ROOT—an annual publication highlighting the values and concerns of landscape architecture students and professionals. The 2009 inaugural issue, Unexpected Landscapes, featured an interview with Walter Hood, an article about the efforts of Chilean landscape architects to recover native plant materials, and a piece exploring the trapezoidal green roof installation on David Adjaye’s Denver Museum of Contemporary Art.


A visit by former ASLA president Angela Dye inspired the 2010 ROOT topic, Resourceful Obstacles. Mark Twain commented that “whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over,” and Resourceful Obstacles addresses Colorado water law and its attendant limitations on sustainable water use as well as economic and theoretical obstacles to ingenious design. Resourceful Obstacles features contributions by Michael Leccese (former senior editor of Landscape Architecture magazine), a profile on landscape architect and acclaimed writer Anne Whiston Spirn, and a case study on the effects of Colorado’s water law through the story of Riverside Cemetery.

Visit to see PDFs of both publications and post comments on our blog. Also on the ROOT website is information on submitting articles to ROOT volume 3, Forgotten Spaces.

Amanda received her Master’s Degree in Landscape Architecture this summer while completing an internship at Rocky Mountain National Park. She is currently a lecturer at the University of Colorado Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning.

Landscape Performance Research: Generating Quadruple Net Value in the Landscape

By Dennis Jerke, ASLA

At Texas A&M University in College Station, a diverse group of graduate and undergraduate students is undertaking a unique research project to measure the value generated by holistic urban design on six Texas projects.

The research project is being led by Geoffrey John Booth, the Youngblood Endowed Professor of Land Development in the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University. The research is being conducted by students in his fall Master of Science in Land Development class, a group that includes 40 graduate students and 26 undergraduates from architecture, business, agriculture, landscape architecture, planning, construction science and real estate disciplines.

univstthomasUniversity of St. Thomas Campus Life Mall

The research is rooted in metrics associated with the “quadruple net bottom line” as articulated in my book, Urban Design and the Bottom Line: Optimizing the Return on Perception, which examines a variety of projects, such as Chicago’s Millennium Park and the San Antonio River Walk, to demonstrate impact on their communities and the landscape. The basis for measuring this added value is a four-category matrix that evaluates factors such as safety and security, public access, transportation choices and context sensitivity (social/cultural value); taxable value, adjacent property values and occupancy rates (economic value); permeable surfaces, storm water management and rainwater harvesting, carbon
footprint (environmental value); and green space, public art and water features (sensory or visual value).

marketstreetMarket Street at the Woodlands

The students are studying four projects designed by TBG Partners, a Texas-based landscape architecture and planning firm for which I serve as a principal, as well as the restoration of two historic Texas courthouses. The students are using Urban Design and the Bottom Line as their textbook to study the quadruple net value generated by these projects. They are measuring the economic, social/cultural, environmental and sensory value that the design of these projects has created — what we call “the design dividend.”

The projects include Town Lake Park, a large urban park in downtown Austin; Market Street at The Woodlands, a mixed-use town center north of Houston; the Dallas Design District, an area encompassing more than 160 acres of city blocks, open space and Trinity River frontage in north Texas; and the University of St. Thomas campus life mall, a university commons in the heart of this Houston-based campus.

whartoncountycourthouseWharton County Courthouse

In addition, the students are studying restorations of the 1884-built Lampasas County Courthouse and 1889-built Wharton County Courthouse. They are gathering data/metrics from a variety of sources in each category to identify the measurable quadruple net impact of each design on the landscape and larger community. The Texas Historical Commission will use the data to evaluate the impact of investments in courthouse renovations on the downtown districts in these county seats.

This research is a pilot program to develop a database of projects and value metrics that demonstrate project performance and real estate value uplift. We plan to share our findings with the Landscape Architecture Foundation to add case studies and methods for quantifying landscape performance benefits to the Landscape Performance Series.

Urban Design and the Bottom Line: Optimizing the Return on Perception was published by the Urban Land Institute in December 2008. Dennis Jerke’s background as a landscape architect includes managing the design of more than 300 significant projects across the Southwest. The book combines his passion for communicating the value that landscape architecture generates in Urban America with his 32 years of experience in adding design value in the urban built environment.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Presidential Management Fellows Program

by Lauren Lesch Marshall, 2010 Olmsted Scholar

In the United States, the Federal Government owns nearly 30% of the land, totaling approximately 650 million acres, and working as a Landscape Architect in the federal realm means having an impact on this huge footprint. Landscape Architects in the federal realm work on a wide breadth of issues, including but not limited to landscape design, construction oversight, project planning, land use planning, sustainable recreation planning, ecological restoration planning and implementation, and national program management and coordination.

It was this breadth of opportunity that drew me to federal service, a career pathway I entered through the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program in June of this year. The PMF, which is open to those finishing graduate school, is a competitive program designed to recruit future leaders to public service. It offers accelerated promotion potential and career development through trainings and rotation opportunities where you can “test out” other jobs and parts of the country. Historically the program has not drawn a high number of landscape architects as applicants, but this is a trend I hope to see reverse over the next several years; our ability to reach across disciplines and think holistically makes us ideal national leaders and excellent candidates for the program.

I work out of the Washington Office of the U.S. Forest Service, and my PMF experience thus far has included engagement in a variety of national policies and programs. I work on primarily collaborative planning issues, including assisting in the management of a restoration program that allocated $10 million dollars to national forests for restoration work this year. I am also helping to enhance the way that national forests work with partners to plan across borders. On my upcoming rotation, which is required by the program and will last from four to six months, I will hopefully be working on a national forest out west. While my supervisor and I are in the early planning stage for this opportunity, I hope that my rotation will give me an opportunity to flex my site design muscles through on-the-ground restoration and recreation projects.

After graduating from the University of Michigan in May with a Masters in Landscape Architecture, Lauren became a Presidential Management Fellow with the U.S. Forest Service in Washington, D.C. She works as a part of a team to manage a landscape scale restoration program, enhance open space conservation, and publicize the key role Landscape Architects play in the public realm.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Upcoming Research on Infrastructural Regionalism

by Emily Vogler, 2010 National Olmsted Scholar

21st century America operates in a globalized world where interbasin water transfers, mass human migration, international trade, and invasive species create complex relationships between distant geographies. Increasingly, designers are asked to develop proposals that respond to this global context while acting locally to incorporate current approaches to sustainability and design. The region is increasingly important as an intermediate territory that bridges the global and the local scale and serves as a platform from which to address infrastructural networks that are the organizing frameworks for our cities and rural areas.

As the 2010 National Olmsted Scholar, I will conduct research on infrastructural regionalism. I will use the existing networks of Water, Energy, Industry, Transportation, Culture, and Ecology as starting points from which to investigate five city-regions across the United States. Each of these networks links urban, regional, and global issues and is key to making our cities productive ecosystems nested within a sustainable regional framework. In addition, these networks can provide a foundation for the development of a metric that evaluates sustainability at the regional and site scale. This metric should be both quantitative and qualitative; both experimental and theoretical; and should include aesthetics and humanity.

I will document each region through the plotting of existing networks and flows, photographs, interactive community mapping projects, and transects that originate from points of maximum population density and extend to the rural surroundings. Each regional investigation will culminate in a mobile exhibition that will engage the public in a dialogue on the topic of  “the region” and propose a design agenda that bridges the regional and local scales.

Stay tuned to this blog series for updates on my research, including the regions I have chosen to investigate.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in May with a Masters in Landscape Architecture, Emily began working with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates in New York City. She is currently working on the ARC Competition to design a wildlife overpass structure in Vail, Colorado.